Back To It

Back at it after a week’s vacation. I can’t say the vacation was needed, but spending a week with my kids was certainly very much appreciated. Spending the week dodging the sun is always a bit of a challenge when my wife and older son enjoy the beach as much as they do, but having an infant who is as adverse to the sun as I am makes it far easier!

Taking a week off from gaming also gave me some time to think, about MMOs of course, at a much higher level and in a much broader scope. It’s something that’s not always possible when neck-deep in the day to day activities. I’ve got some big thoughts (at least, I think they’re big) that I’ll be expounding upon them in the near future, probably in multiple pieces as I get them written.

One thing I did want to touch upon – The Old Republic‘s not-so-recent release of information on the Advanced Class System.

I definitely like the idea of expanding the number of “available” classes from 8 to 16, as this system seems to do. I can also appreciate the flexibility that appears inherent to the system, with “role-defining abilities” combined with the existence of the Shared Skills set. Sixteen “classes” hardly seem the limit if the Advanced Class System is as fluid as it appears; purists who select only from one of the unique skill trees may play completely different from a generalist who selects from all three.

However, if the Advanced Class System is more like Talent Trees from WoW – less fluid with a known “best build” for any given skill set – then we’re left with a system with more choices, but nothing particularly new. As Keen points out, more choices are good, but not particularly anything to get excited about.

There’s one thing that concerns me – the number of icons in each tree. With Guild Wars (both the originaly, and version 2) exploring the viability of a non-standard interface (i.e. doing away with the “wall of buttons” standard to WoW, LotRO, and so many others), and introducing some fluidity to what skills are available, I was hoping for more progress in this regard. Don’t get me wrong – I understand why LotRO uses the system it does; but it doesn’t mean it’s my preference.

Context should be an important part of combat; any given situation should have an answer, but this does not mean that all answers should be immediately available. Realistically, there are just things one doesn’t do when in the middle of fighting, and even some things that could be done that shouldn’t, based on any given moment. Your standard MMO such as WoW or LotRO include a meta-game in their combat – choosing the right skill at the right time. All options (or most) are available at all times, and the “game” is to pick the right one. Guild Wars 2 seems to skip this particular meta-game in favor of a clean UI; part of the ten skill slots change based on equipped weapon, and players may switch weapons at will, even in the midst of combat.

I love the idea of having a very deep pool of skills, and would never give up that particular standard for MMOs. However, the wall of buttons can get tiring, and for those who play alts it can be downright frightening. However, a system that uses context and moment-to-moment status (current state, buffs/debuffs, physical position, etc.) is, by nature, far more strategic; to use a particular skill one must be in the right position and trigger the right state in your opponent. Similar to a real fight. You don’t throw an uppercut when you’re four feet from your opponent – it just won’t land. This aspect is why I love the Warden – you don’t thrown any skill up at any time, you build up to it. Take the Warden’s Gambit system and imagine an entire combat mechanic built just like that, for every class!

How much fun would that be? I’m hoping there’s more of that in the Advanced Class System. But I don’t hold out too much hope.

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